This article first appeared in the October issue of the RWA/NYC Keynotes Newsletter, 2015.
Today, I want to talk about rejection. I have written four complete, unsellable paranormal novels, all of which have been rejected due to a “saturated” market. And I’ve been at this five years now. To me, it feels like a lot of rejection. More than some and less than others, but still, it cuts pretty darn deep. Actually, I find myself questioning my ability to do this writing thing at all.
Because we all know that sting, I think friends are inclined to respond with a message of resiliency: “It’s to be expected. Shake it off. Keep trying. It’s all in your head.” But I think we need to entertain the rejection. Nurse it. Soothe it. Pay homage to its power. Acknowledge that it’s a supremely crappy feeling. Imagine breaking an arm, and someone saying, “It’s to be expected. Shake it off. Keep trying. It’s all in your arm.”
So I thought I would share five facts about rejection, most of which were taken from psychologist Guy Winch’s book, EMOTIONAL FIRST AID: PRACTICAL STRATEGIES FOR TREATING FAILURE, REJECTION, GUILT, AND OTHER EVERYDAY PSYCHOLOGICAL INJURIES.
5 Reasons Rejection Sucks Big Time
- Rejection piggybacks on physical pain pathways in the brain. Studies show that the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. Because of this, Tylenol can actually assuage the painful experience of rejection.
- Rejection stimulates our most primal need to belong. When we lived in small nomadic groups, being ostracized from our tribes was akin to a death sentence. Those who experienced rejection as more painful were also more likely to correct their behavior and therefore more likely to survive and pass along their genes. Thus, the pain you feel does not mean you are needy or weak — it just means you’re wired that way.
- We can relive and re-experience social pain more vividly than we can physical pain. Try recalling an experience in which you felt significant physical pain and your brain pathways will respond, “Whatevs.” But recall a painful rejection and your brain, as well as your emotions, will respond much as it did at the time.
- Rejection temporarily lowers our IQ. Being asked to recall a recent rejection experience and relive the experience was enough to cause people to score significantly lower on subsequent IQ tests, tests of short-term memory, and tests of decision-making.
- Rejection does not respond to reason. Participants were put through an experiment in which they were rejected by strangers. Even being told that the strangers belonged to a group they despised, such as the KKK, did little to soothe people’s hurt feelings.
But, of course, being a romance writer at heart, I had to include five things to help conquer rejection as well.
How to Fix That Broken Arm
- Release all the feels. If you feel rejected, savor it. Scream. Kick. Punch. Cry. Tear up your manuscript (once you’ve saved a digital copy). Holding onto hurt feelings and/or suppressing them is only going to cause problems later on.
- Reach out to friends and loved ones for support. This activates and assuages our “need to belong,” which dates back to our tribal roots.
- Revive your self worth. Rejection can elicit cyclical negative thoughts. There are supplements that can chemically cool that part of the brain (such as Gaba or St. John’s Wort), but you should also consider cognitive exercises that force you to identify the things you like about yourself. Like reciting self-affirming statements when you wake up every morning.
- Assess potential changes. Guy Winch, PhD talks about how he tried for 14 years to publish several fiction novels, but it wasn’t until a friend told him to write about what he knows (psychology) that he was published.
- Try Again. I made the commitment to myself that for every rejection I received, I would send out three more queries. This only multiplied the rejection exponentially. So, I am taking this tip as a suggestion to write something new, about what I know.
So, if you’re a paranormal romance writer and a little worse for wear, please take this article as a soft pat on the back. I feel you, bae. You’re not alone.